That Dáil Éireann:
affirms Ireland's solidarity with the Belarusian people in their peaceful defence of democratic principles and fundamental human rights;
rejects the democratic legitimacy of Alexander Lukashenko following the fraudulent 9th August, 2020, Presidential Election that was neither free nor fair;
condemns the violence and repression perpetrated by the Lukashenko regime in the run up to, and in the aftermath of, that election, including its actions to silence the opposition, civil society and independent media through mass arrests, heavy criminal penalties, internet shutdowns and restrictions on media freedoms;
further condemns the recent coercive forced landing by the Belarusian authorities of a Ryanair aircraft, that was flying between European Union (EU) capitals, which endangered the lives of the passengers and crew and showed a flagrant disregard for international law;
calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Roman Protasevich, Sofia Sapega and all those unjustly detained in Belarus;
welcomes the initiation of an investigation by the International Civil Aviation Organisation and calls on the Belarusian authorities to fully cooperate with that investigation;
further welcomes the firm response of the European Council during their meeting on 24th May, and affirms Ireland's continued support for coordinated EU measures;
- the genuinely spontaneous and peaceful nature of the protest movement in Belarus following the illegitimate August 2020 Presidential election;
- the lack of action by the Belarusian authorities to adequately investigate allegations of human rights violations, such as rape, electrocution and other forms of torture;
- the strong concerns of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders regarding the persecution of women human rights defenders and the effective criminalisation of human rights work;
- Ireland's commitment to keeping the situation in Belarus high on the international agenda, including at the United Nations Human Rights Council and at meetings of United Nations Security Council members; and
- Ireland's vocal and steadfast support for the Belarusian people and Belarusian civil society, including through support for projects that seek to protect human rights and media freedoms; and
urges the Belarusian authorities to:
- implement the recommendations of the November 2020 report of Professor Wolfgang Benedek arising from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's Moscow Mechanism;
- engage with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus and grant her access to the country in her official capacity;
- fully engage with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in her investigation into the over two thousand reports of human rights violations, including torture, ill-treatment and physical and sexual abuse of detainees;
- end the impunity with which Belarusian security forces are permitted to act and to permit independent and transparent investigations into the deaths in custody of Raman Bandarenka and Vitold Ashurak; and
- engage in a meaningful and inclusive national dialogue with the political opposition and civil society, with a view to making needed reforms in advance of fresh elections that are free, fair and independently monitored.
I hope this motion will receive all-party support in the House. It is brought forward following the disturbing escalation in the lengths the Belarusian authorities are willing to go to repress those critical of Alexander Lukashenko's leadership. By coercively forcing a Ryanair aircraft to divert to Minsk under false pretences, they displayed a willingness to endanger the lives of passengers to detain someone whose views the regime does not like.
Ireland reacted to this incident swiftly and firmly. At a meeting of EU leaders last week, the Taoiseach clearly communicated Ireland's view that a strong EU response was needed. That response is now being delivered. EU airlines have been asked to avoid Belarusian airspace, work has commenced on banning Belarusian airlines from EU airspace and actions are being taken to impose sanctions on those responsible for this dangerous incident. Our concern must be for the protection of our citizens and the safety of international aviation.
Alexander Lukashenko holds no democratic legitimacy. The Belarusian people have made that clear through their ten months of protests since the fraudulent presidential election in August 2020. Ireland and the EU have rejected the result of that election and Mr. Lukashenko's secretive so-called inauguration. We have repeatedly called on the Belarusian authorities to engage in a meaningful national dialogue with the political opposition and civil society, make needed reforms to the electoral process, and hold fresh elections that are free, fair and independently monitored.
Mr. Lukashenko maintains de facto control by ruling through fear. Since coming to power in 1994, he has sought to deny the Belarusian people free choice in their political representation. No election in Belarus since that time has been free or fair. Frustrated by his leadership, the Belarusian people very clearly expressed their desire for change in the run-up to the August 2020 presidential election. In advance of that vote, Mr. Lukashenko imprisoned his main political challengers and cracked down on protesters and civil society. However, he underestimated the strength of the desire for democratic change among the Belarusian people. In doing so, he clearly demonstrated his inability to recognise the winds of change.
He dismissed the challenge posed by the courageous women who took charge of the democratic movement. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Veronika Tsepkalo and Maria Kalesnikava inspired a mass democratic movement both at home and abroad among the Belarusian diaspora. Ms Tsikhanouskaya, in particular, led this movement despite the imprisonment of her husband and threats from the authorities to take her children away. Notwithstanding the obvious popularity of her campaign, the Central Election Commission was complicit in delivering a falsified election result that gave Alexander Lukashenko roughly 80% of the vote. International monitors were not given sufficient time to send an election observation mission. Due to widespread irregularities in the voting process, including ballot rigging, we will never know the true result of the election.
Hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters took to the streets immediately following the result. Rather than engage with the protesters, Mr. Lukashenko chose to deploy massive state violence against them. Ireland and the EU strongly condemned this violence. We were appalled by the mass arbitrary detentions, including of children, unexplained disappearances and loss of life, reports of torture, curtailments on fundamental freedoms, Internet shutdowns and much more besides. Ireland reacted to these events promptly and publicly. At meetings of the UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council, I made clear Ireland's deep concerns regarding the repression of the Belarusian people. Ireland has been vocal in calling for an end to the violence and repression and we have repeatedly called for the immediate and unconditional release of all those unjustly detained, including hundreds of political prisoners. I commend the many Oireachtas Members and Irish MEPs who have highlighted the cases of persons imprisoned for their political views. I share their concern for the welfare of those detained.
Mr. Lukashenko has all but criminalised freedom of expression in his country. Even the most trivial forms of dissent carry heavy costs and lengthy sentences. The Belarusian Association of Journalists recorded 477 detentions of journalists and media workers in 2020 alone. There has been an increase in restrictions on media outlets over recent months, including the blocking of access to independent news websites. Ireland has strongly condemned the repression of independent media and attacks on journalists, bloggers and media workers. They play a critical role in documenting human rights violations and challenging disinformation and state propaganda. Promoting and defending the right to freedom of expression, media freedom and the safety of journalists is at the core of UNESCO's mandate. Ireland supports the EU's call for UNESCO to react to the deteriorating situation. At the UN, Ireland has supported joint statements expressing deep concerns regarding the use of Internet shutdowns and the situation faced by journalists and media workers in Belarus. The Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, also conveyed Ireland's views during a meeting of UN Security Council members in January. Ireland is fully committed to the protection and promotion of the freedom of expression.
In that connection, I wish to express my deep concern for the welfare of Roman Protasevich. The coercive forced landing of a Ryanair aircraft travelling between EU capitals to detain Mr. Protasevich was utterly unacceptable and my Department has made our strong views known to the Belarusian Embassy in London. Mr. Protasevich now faces a severe penalty solely for expressing views the Lukashenko regime does not like. His companion, Sofia Sapega, was also detained simply for her association with him. I reiterate Ireland's call for their immediate and unconditional release.
We reject the transparently false narrative of the Belarusian authorities regarding the now widely discredited bomb threat on board the Ryanair aircraft. Last week, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, called for an urgent investigation into the incident by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO. I welcome its agreement to undertake such an investigation. It is important that those responsible for this outrageous attack on EU aviation security be held to account.
The Belarusian people have endured a long term of repression under the leadership of Alexander Lukashenko. Ireland shares the concerns of UN rapporteurs. There have been 2,000 reports of human rights violations, including allegations of torture involving rape and electrocution, women human rights defenders have been persecuted and human rights work has been effectively criminalised. We regret that the Belarusian authorities continue to deny the special rapporteur for human rights in Belarus access to the country in her official capacity. This is essential to establishing the facts on the ground. Ireland will continue to support her mandate until she has had the opportunity to complete her work fully.
We have all seen the harrowing images of injuries sustained by those who were unjustly detained in the aftermath of the election. We have seen security forces beat peaceful protesters in broad daylight. Tragically, we have also witnessed a number of deaths in custody, including a children's art teacher and, most recently, other activists. Yet we have not seen investigations into these abuses by Belarusian authorities. One of the guiding principles of Ireland's tenure at the UN Security Council is ensuring accountability. We are committed to promoting the rule of law and the upholding of human rights. Central to this commitment is the fight against impunity. It is clear that impunity breeds violence. That is why Ireland and the EU have repeatedly called for transparent and independent investigations. To that end, Ireland played a constructive role in extending the mandate of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate human rights violations in Belarus, including possible gender dimensions. The High Commissioner has begun the work of operationalising that mandate by hiring a team of international human rights experts. The NGO-led International Accountability Platform for Belarus and investigations conducted in EU member states under the principle of universal jurisdiction will complement the work of the high commissioner's team. Ireland fully supports all these efforts to ensure that those responsible for human rights violations are made accountable for their actions.
Ireland also supports the recommendations of the OSCE's expert investigator, Professor Wolfgang Benedek, in his Moscow mechanism report. This report found human rights violations to be massive, systematic and proven beyond any doubt. The detailed recommendations in his report establish actionable steps to bring Belarus into line with its OSCE and international commitments and obligations. I again urge the Belarusian authorities to implement those recommendations promptly.
Sanctions are also important for international accountability. In Belarus, 88 individuals and seven commercial entities have been sanctioned. Following the recent Ryanair incident, it is clear we need to go further. The EU will bring additional sanctions against those responsible for what has happened and is actively considering what form additional economic sanctions may take. Ireland welcomes the EU's robust response and that of our like-minded international partners. Lukashenko assumed he could silence opposition and wait out international concern as he has done in the past. The EU has been clear, however, that there cannot be a return to business as usual under his leadership. His fear of democracy and the political will of the Belarusian people are very clear now. He has now delayed national local elections until 2023 and has made no meaningful attempt to reach out to the opposition or civil society. Rather than make good on his promise of constitutional change as a precursor of his retirement, it seems he has focused on ensuring his family's succession in the event of his death. The rhetoric and actions emerging from Belarus have threatened the peace and security of the European neighbourhood. Belarusians deserve to have their democratic voice heard in free and fair elections, and Ireland will remain steadfast in calling for those elections and in supporting actions to bring accountability to those who have deprived the Belarusian people of their rights.
I commend this broad motion to the House and, as I said at the start, I hope it will get universal support.